My grandmother’s concern when I was coming into the world was that I wouldn’t be accepted by the Black community or the white community because I’m mixed. But it’s a beautiful place to straddle—to live between worlds. I used to think of it as a bridge, but now I think of it like a tree with deep roots that allow the connection and understanding of many things and paths and people.
I was born on Vancouver Island, in Sooke, and then moved to the interior of British Columbia for most of my childhood, to a little town called Grand Forks. I came to Vancouver in high school. I’ve lived all over the place, but during the pandemic, I got a little like, What am I doing? I managed to buy a place by the sea on the Sunshine Coast, and now I split my time between here and L.A. My kids were actually born in B.C., so it’s kind of full circle.
When people can see themselves in the world, they can look beyond the possibility of who they are.
I laugh, but I consider myself the richest man in the world because my wealth comes from experiences that are priceless and all I’ve ever done is tried to share those. It’s taken me on a journey. When I was 17, that meant sharing songs with my little crew in Vancouver, dreaming up, loving hip hop, and trying to be involved. We were Canadian rappers before it was a cool thing. You know, the Rascalz. It was no Drake, but we did it and laid the foundation. At that point in time, we didn’t see any images of ourselves out in the world. It’s hard for my kids to conceptualize. There wasn’t Moana or anything like that. When people can see themselves in the world, they can look beyond the possibility of who they are. Hip hop allowed that first light of seeing myself.
This plant has gone from underground to aboveground, and now we have a new relationship with it.
I grew up with weed. My family were hippies and my father smoked in our home. It was around—it wasn’t a hidden thing. It was just part of our life. When I was a kid, I’d either pick up after my dad or leave it out, depending on which friends were coming over to visit the house.
Of course as a young man, you go, Hey, I’m going to try this. I remember a well-intentioned police officer telling my fourth grade class that one marijuana cigarette can ruin your entire life. But I knew that wasn’t exactly true because my dad was awesome and I loved him, and his friends were awesome and I loved them. So it’s interesting that in my lifetime, we’ve gone from that to “the Apple store of weed.” If I’m on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, I can throw a rock and hit 15 different shops.
I think that’s a really powerful example of what can happen when we challenge social norms, agreements, and laws, and wonder why we’re adhering to them. This plant has gone from underground to aboveground, and now we have a new relationship with it. And the same thing is happening around psychedelics.
My relationship with different plant medicines and psilocybin has been wildly transformative.
When I was younger, my experiences were casual. There’s always been a relationship between cannabis culture and any edgy music culture—punk, hip hop. Our first Rascalz album was called Cash Crop because we were hustling and smoking and doing all the things. So I had that experience.
But now I can say that my relationship with different plant medicines and psilocybin has been wildly transformative. And the most transformative experiences I’ve had have been with reverence and respect for the communities that have traditionally used these medicines. They’re called medicines for a reason, to help you grow. Now, if I have an opportunity to do some mushrooms, there’s an intention. I hold some space. I might laugh my ass off, but it expands my thinking. There’s a new interest in microdosing, and what works and what doesn’t, and the fact that we’re having these conversations is super exciting.
Outside of my two children, who are miracles, my greatest gifts in life have been being able to travel and immerse myself into different cultures around the world. When you’re young and you go somewhere for the first time—even if that’s just Calgary—your world expands and you see things differently. Never mind once you get to Europe, or Africa or South America or somewhere else.
I’ve had the huge privilege of learning different disciplines. Along the way, I found my way into learning how to make films. I like to say that if I’m passionate about something, I’ll get the water or take the lead. The only constant has been, God willing, making things that are meaningful and, I hope, where art and social justice meet. That comes to life through creative practice in artistic disciplines.
I realized only in arriving there that I was the first person on the Black side of my family to be back on the continent since before slavery.
My father died when I was in my early twenties and that was, like, unimaginable, right? Before that, I felt rooted. Then that root snaps or breaks, and you don’t know how to navigate it. I was on a traditional path where we had some success in Vancouver, I moved to Toronto, moved to New York. I was working at record companies. We were producing records. It was all growing and when he passed away, I floated out.
A couple of years after that, I found myself in Sierra Leone. We were filming a documentary called Musicians in the WarZone. I realized only in arriving there that I was the first person on the Black side of my family to be back on the continent since before slavery. It was the year 2000 and it was the end of a 10-year civil war, predominantly over resources, specifically diamonds.
There was a warlord named Foday Sankoh who had taken his inspiration from Charles Taylor in Liberia. It was heavy stuff. At the time, Canada was the number one place to live in the world, while Sierra Leone was at the bottom of the U.N.’s index. It was the “worst.” You saw the tragedy of the reality of war: child soldiers, people in camps with amputations, a decimated country. At the same time, it was the most giving, beautiful land. People who don’t have what we consider anything are willing to give you everything. I’d never seen anything like that. It was really like looking at death—which was a dotted line to my father’s death. Two things came out of this trip.
At the time, I was moving in pretty heavy circles, walking into rooms with my heroes. I’d gone to New York and was finally living in the back pages of the magazines I grew up reading. It was also during the rise of bling bling hip hop, if you will. Hip hop’s always been about, “Yo, look what I got,” but it was losing some of its social context. This is what happens with any movement, like punk or reggae, so no judgment, everything evolves. But it was at this inflection point where if you had a couple hundred grand worth of diamonds around your neck, you were the man. And I had to tell that to the kid who'd had her arm chopped off over diamonds. So there was a glitch, an error in my head like, “Does not compute.”
I arrived at a new decision of how I would navigate the world, which was very simple: I thought about my father, and if the man he was when he passed away would be proud of the things I was doing. If not, or if it wasn’t good for people, I couldn’t do it. And that led me to filmmaking.
The most challenging place you can go to in creative exploration is the most personal.
When the short film aired on MuchMusic, it was a pretty big deal. I saw how people related to the experience, and I was the guy in the crew who started taking the film to schools and universities and talking about my experience. And then I realized, Oh, films are an interesting way to share a story.
I did a series with MTV and National Geographic called 4Real, which was the beginning of trying to understand how to make films, but also how to test different social agreements and ways of working that were more balanced. The show had a simple concept that was born out of that trip to Sierra Leone: take high profile people, actors and musicians, and connect them with young people who do extraordinary things to change their communities.
But we had three rules: you can bring one person, no entourage, no hair or makeup setup. if there’s a business class flight, you got it, but if we’re sleeping under a tree, it’s going to be that. And we’re not going to pay you because we’re going to split what we make with the people we’re featuring. Guess what? People said yes. We had M.I.A., Mos Def, Cameron Diaz, and all these different people in all these different places.
The most challenging place you can go to in creative exploration is the most personal. And I say, with a bit of a smile, if you really want to implode things, make a film about your family. Had I known the magnet The Death of My Two Fathers would be, what it would bring up for everyone in the family, I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to do it.
My father was Black American and my mother is Jewish from upstate New York. My father had five kids over the course of his life with three different women. He had his first two kids when he was 18 years old in Kansas City, Missouri, where he grew up. He was a fiercely dedicated father to me and my sisters in Canada, but unable to reconnect to the family in Kansas City. I grew up without really knowing the Black side of my family, although very much identifying with, being perceived as, and being a Black man in the world.
In the last year of his life, my father sat down and recorded eight hours of footage telling his life story, answering a lot of the questions that I was unable to ask when I was in my early twenties. He recorded it on video, half of it by himself, another half with my sister. I packed those tapes around for 20 years before I could watch them. I was watching what was happening in America and looking at my kids and wondering if America was better or worse off than when my parents left it. Watching those tapes took me on a journey.
I think the true purpose of art is healing through creative practice.
When my half-brother passed, he left five kids and 10 grandkids. My half-sister has five kids, 21 grandkids. I have a really large family in Kansas City that I had no connection to. They are incredible people, but also living on the margins—being Black in America and all the beauty and the struggles that come with it. So, after spending a big part of my life going around the world, advocating on behalf of and telling the stories of people who have faced difficulty but found beauty through expression, I found myself face to face with the same kind of thing—but it was my family this time.
I think the true purpose of art is healing through creative practice. So making this documentary demanded that I be present in the process and it transformed me as an individual. I didn’t realize that anybody would actually relate to it because it was so personal. I thought I was making an extensive home movie, I didn’t think anyone would care. I held less ambition for it than anything I’d ever made. But as we began sharing the film, people saw themselves in it. Their families don’t look like mine, but somehow they see themselves.
I’ve always thought deeply about how and where we share the things we make and that people who have traditionally less access should be the first places we go to. You have to be deliberate about that. So it made a lot of sense to make the film available to incarcerated people. The power of having conversations with people about fatherhood and the lack of fathers, or what it means to become a father when you may or may not have had a father in your life was something we thought could really spark some dialogue.
I’d been doing a project with my friend JR at Tehachapi Prison. We became aware of programs that allow you to broadcast on their internal networks. So we’ve screened The Death of My Two Fathers on their network. We also did screenings at some other prisons in the state of California. Perhaps that’ll expand to other spaces, and we can build a curriculum and have conversations. This is also hopefully a film that relates to people who are in end-of-life care.
I’ve been privileged enough to be in these spaces, to have intimate conversations with men who’ve been incarcerated. They’ve been through a lot and they’ve been incarcerated for very real reasons, but they also chose to transform themselves in there. I don’t want to seem idealistic, like it’s all perfect. It’s not, but I think the things we make should always become tools for teaching and ongoing learning. What I’m really excited about is bringing people from different walks of life behind those walls, because it’s transformative. I want to share my experiences.
My hope is that we can reflect back a different pathway of possibility for production and ways of working.
The documentary itself is a labor of love. What docs make money? Maybe you’re lucky enough to make the bread back and you get to make another one. But I am trying to point to a different measurement of success and return. When 100,000 incarcerated men and women have access to the film and we get to start building a program to keep dialogue happening around that, then maybe that can be measured as a significant success. Or if something lives on in the educational space, that can be measured as success.
I’ve had enough deals in music or film where I had to adhere to a confining structure. I’ve been fortunate in these last years to be a bit outside of that. I recognize that’s not the case for everyone, but my hope is that we can reflect back a different pathway of possibility for production and ways of working. Maybe we’ll move things forward a half inch, or maybe a half a mile, but someone will see what we’re doing and they’ll take it to a place I could never imagine. So, that’s my hope.
I laugh at myself because at the end of the day, it comes back to underground hip hop rules: You build an audience, you go to where people are interested, you offer them something, you have an experience, and you keep it moving. You go to the next show. And so it builds up. Then we get to a place where it’s more widely available, and then you let go of it. I get inspired by being in that place.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Sol Guy photographed by Jennelle Fong in Los Angeles. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.